w/ Dylan Connor and the Epic Poets. Free, 9 p.m., July 11. BAR, 254 Crown St., New Haven, manicproductions.org
Ideally, you are sitting down right now because this news might sting: If you played in a band in high school, chances are really good that you guys were awful. Apologies for the tough love, but there's no need to be ashamed. This affliction affects nearly everyone who starts a group pre-graduation, and Matt Dowling — bassist/keyboardist ofWashington, DC's Deleted Scenes — is not an exception. He, vocalist/guitarist Dan Scheuerman and drummer Brian Hospital are old high school buddies who still play together in Scenes. (Guitarist/keyboardist Dominic Campanaro is the last piece, and Dowling has known him since elementary school.) In a 2009 Strangeglue interview, Dowling said that the trio were "in a few terrible bands together" without elaborating. But who were these terrible bands and what made them lousy? We must know.
Dowling lets out a laugh of surprise when confronted with the question. "I think you're the first guy to try and drill down on this," he says. "Fortunately, the high school band — the main one people met each other through — you really can't find anything on. We've actually cross-checked this ourselves, so that's good." In lieu of revealing a name, he makes some loose comparisons. "Some bands now that are super cutting edge bands from really cool scenes have some influences we had, but at that time, [having those influences] was totally uncool, which is stuff like Rage Against the Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Incubus — all this bad stuff." Dowling names Baltimore's Dope Body as an example of a current successor, and to cover his tracks, he adds a shout-out to how good those famous bands were in their early days.
Listening to Deleted Scenes, it's hard to tell any of those acts made any impact in the first place. The quartet's sound is indie rock focusing on minimalist but fleshed-out-sounding songs — an overarching sense of instrumental restraint is one of their sonic signatures — with the whole sum resting on the weight of gloom. "Bedbedbedbedbed" off last September's Young People's Church of the Air wears these colors well. Still, it's a handsome gloom — a kind that allows them to resemble venerable downers like Built To Spill and Codeine. (Speaking of which, Dowling hesitates to mention this, but people always liken his band to the Shins.)
Before starting Scenes in 2005, Dowling and company were involved in a recording-only project called Fell Off the Face of the Earth, which he compares to Sigur Rós, so there have been transition points into their current sound from their old popular rock-band faves. As far as a second mass shift of tastes goes, Dowling welcomes it. "I feel like our sound has evolved definitely from record to record already, and we're working on a new record right now. I think it's significantly different. That's kind of the only way to be," he says. "What the great bands do, in my opinion, is evolve over time. Not that we're necessarily thinking like we have to follow some path trodden by a long-term successful band. We just know for us that we're going to be turned off by it if it feels like we're doing the same thing. We're either going to be doing something different or not doing anything at all, in my view."